"A Daughter's View"
By Christopher T. Cory
New York, NY
"Where's home? Wherever you're going."
Coming from a diplomat's child, that could be a world-weary sigh … or a heartfelt embrace of adventure. It's the latter for Katie Buck, an actress who is much at home in the world. She's the daughter of Steve and his Lebanese wife, Hala. She was raised in places like Kuwait, Oman and Baghdad, and her middle name is Leila, Arabic for night. Through a one-woman show that includes the line above she is transmuting some of her family's concerns into theater that gently celebrates some of the Arab values we all need to know more about.
I recommend you put yourself on Katie's email list so you can catch it the next time she performs it, as she regularly does, at a conference or a church or synagogue, or get her invited to do it at an event you're involved with or find her an off-Broadway venue. She's at firstname.lastname@example.org.
She wrote "I-Site," a word-play on "the way we see the world and where we find ourselves in it," five years ago as her Wesleyan thesis, and is "saddened by how current it still is." A series of brisk and non-preachy autobiographical sketches with sound effects and lighting (her husband sometimes stage manages), it takes her from being a little girl who non-Arab classmates taunt as a "camel" through the cultural traditions learned from Lebanese grandparents who became U.S. citizens, to her sympathy for the civilians being killed in today's conflicts.
She sees the loss of her grandmother to Alzheimer's and a nursing "home," for instance, through her own dual perspective: In the Arab world, she says, extended families "take care of anyone who needs you, so nursing homes are for lost souls." She mimics the accented English of family members in earlier generations, the blasé condescension of a socialite who finds Lebanon "charming" but is "concerned about the level of … advancement," the call to prayer of a muezzin. And she tells of being in her parents' house in the diplomatic quarter of Baghdad during the Iraq-Iran war in 1988, hearing shooting outside, and finding herself and her father "holed up in the bathtub, the only bulletproof place."
She now spends much of her time trying to portray Arab culture for Americans (she is a co-founder of Nibras, an Arab American theater collective in New York), and she is not blind to ironies. Watching the American attack on Baghdad during the Gulf War, she saw bombs fall near a tower a few blocks from where her family once lived and feared for a chef who worked for them and for the tower. Later, she says, she learned that the tower was used as one of Saddam Hussein's torture chambers.
Toward the end of the show she says "As my Jewish husband says, Arabs can't be anti-Semitic. They're Semites. We come from the same land… the one we're fighting for." The sympathetic audience of 50 people who paid $10 each for the presentation in the basement of Manhattan's All Souls Unitarian church got, to play on her title, an "I" opener.